Self Confidence: Lesson 2 of The Law of Success in 16 Lessons by Napoleon Hill

Self confidence is crucial to success and belongs at the beginning of this list of lessons on success because it is foundational. According to Hill, there are six basic fears faced by all people:

  • The fear of poverty
  • The fear of old age
  • The fear of criticism
  • The fear of loss of love
  • The fear of ill health
  • The fear of death

These fears exist inside us, and at the end of the day, the main thing that holds us back is our own mind.

The Source of All Fears: Social Heredity 

All of these fears are learned from our society. Hill calls this “social heredity”. Society tells us a lot of things about how we should be and what we should be afraid of. There are plenty of other fears you could probably list. But the point is that you have the ability to overcome any fear you inherit from society if you choose to. Self-Confidence starts by overcoming societal pressures and living your own truth. 

The Key Self-Confidence: Struggle

If Self-Confidence starts with overcoming social pressures, it grows and manifests in your life through struggle.  When achieve an objective through struggle, you learn the lesson that you CAN achieve through struggle. The harder you struggle, the deeper you learn this lesson. 

My Greatest Struggle Lead to my Greatest Achievement

In college, I was afraid of math because it was hard for me. I chose my degree program based partially on this fear. I did not like to struggle back then, and the coursework for the degree I ended up pursuing was very easy to me. But it turns out there was a price to pay for not having to struggle. I couldn’t get a job after I graduated. After a few months of manual labor jobs and zero career prospects, I decided to face my fear of math and get a degree that might be useful in getting the kind of job I wanted. 24 months after that decision, and many late nights studying, I had passed my first actuarial exam and was working full time as an actuarial student for a large insurance company. 

It was a hard two years. I felt like a failure. All my other friends had started their careers and were prospering. They all struggled more than I did in college, and what I was struggling through now was something I should have done years before. I remember feeling embarrassed about my situation, and I blamed the dot-com bubble bursting, the attacks of 9/11 that hurt the economy and some other circumstances outside my control.  But ultimately, I took ownership of my choices and sought to overcome my circumstances. 

Self Confidence Formula

In the text, Hill proposes a “formula” for building and maintaining self-confidence. The formula is an exercise in what Hill refers to as “auto-suggestion”. It is a series of statements intended to foster self-confidence of the person reading it. Committing the formula to memory and repeating it to yourself will make it come true. The author proposes this specific language, but I think you could re-write this with more modern language and to make it specifically applicable to your circumstances. A great resource discussing the power of of auto-suggestion is the book, Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz. It’s a top 5 read in all of self-help or professional development for me.

Proposed Formula

First: I know that I have the ability to achieve the object of my definite purpose, therefore I demand of myself persistent, aggressive and continuous action toward its attainment. 

Second: I realize that the dominating thoughts of my mind eventually reproduce themselves in outward, bodily action, and gradually transform themselves into physical reality, therefore I will concentrate My mind for thirty minutes daily upon the task of thinking of the person I intend to be, by creating a mental picture of this person and then transforming that picture into reality through practical service. 

Third: I know that through the principle of Auto-suggestion, any desire that I persistently hold in my mind will eventually seek expression through some practical means of realizing it, therefore I shall devote ten minutes daily to demanding of myself the development of the factors named in the sixteen lessons of this Reading Course on the Law of Success. 

Fourth: I have clearly mapped out and written down a description of my definite purpose in life, for the coming five years. I have set a price on my services for each of these five years; a price that I intend to earn and receive, through strict application of the principle of efficient, satisfactory service which I will render in advance. 

Fifth: I fully realize that no wealth or position can long endure unless built upon truth and justice, therefore I will engage in no transaction which does not benefit all whom it affects. I will succeed by attracting to me the forces I wish to use, and the co-operation of other people. I will induce others to serve me because I will first serve them. I will eliminate hatred, envy, jealousy, selfishness and cynicism by developing love for all humanity, because I know that a negative attitude toward others can never bring me success. I will cause others to believe in me because I will believe in them and in myself. 

I will sign my name to this formula, commit it to memory and repeat it aloud once a day with full faith that it will gradually influence my entire life so that I will become a successful and happy worker in my chosen field of endeavor. 

Signed ________________________________________________

Make This a Habit

The purpose of writing out and repeating the self-confidence formula every day is to form the habit of making belief in yourself the dominating thought of your mind until that thought has been thoroughly embedded in your subconscious mind, through the principle of habit. – pg 142

Habits are formed by repetition. Habits can be powerful tools if we deliberately create and deploy them. (For a deeper dive into habits, check out the book Atomic Habits by James Clear.) Reciting the formula every day will surely develop the confidence you need to accomplish your definite chief aim!


The Human mind is constantly unfolding, like the petals of a flower, until it reaches the maximum of development. What this maximum is, where it is, or whether it ends at all or not, are unanswerable questions, but the degree of informed fold that seems to vary according to the nature of the individual and the degree to which he keeps his mind at work. – pg 143

Keep your mind unfolding every day by challenging yourself with new thoughts. You can build self-confidence by reminding yourself daily of what you want and focusing your efforts on achieving it.

A Definite Chief Aim: Lesson 1 of The Law of Success in 16 Lessons by Napoleon Hill

A Definite Chief Aim – Articulate Your Most Important Goal

The whole concept of success depends on there being something to succeed at. This lesson goes over what a Definite Chief Aim is and the reasons why having a Definite Chief Aim matters. The term “goal” gets thrown around a lot. I prefer the phrase “Definite Chief Aim” because it’s more evocative than a goal. This thing is definite and is chief or most important. When my mother-in-law first met me (way back when I was just starting to date my now-wife) she told my wife she liked me because “I had goals”. But back then, my goals were vague, grandiose and in no way indicative of the path I was actually on. There was nothing definite or chief about them! I wasn’t succeeding a anything at the time we met, and I didn’t really achieve anything worthwhile until I set myself a Definite Chief Aim.

Breaking down the Definite Chief Aim


It is not enough to have a vague idea of what you might like to do some day. You need to clearly define what you want to achieve by when and then articulate it. Be as specific as possible, then write it down, then tell it to someone else. Until your Definite Chief Aim is written down and spoken out loud to another person it does not exist. You literally speak it into existence.


Chief Prioritize and Focus on it. What is the one thing you want to achieve? It’s easy to come up with goals for the various facet of your life. Indeed, you should know what goals you have for all aspects of your life. But to succeed, you need to prioritize your time and effort on the most important one, and make sure whenever there’s a conflict between goals, you prioritize your time on your Definite Chief Aim.


Your Aim needs to deeply matter to you. This means you need to understand yourself. It sounds simple and easy, but truly understanding yourself is hard. What do you really want? Why do you want it? 

Finding your Definite Chief Aim

Your Definite Chief Aim should be an expression of who you are or who you want to be.  One of the things I loved about being an actuary is that, at the beginning of the career there is a Definite Chief Aim built directly into the career path: obtaining membership in one of credentialing societies. But Fellowship (or whatever level of credential you’re going to stop at) itself is a means to an end, not an end of itself. 

You Gotta Want it

Way back in 2003, I set myself the Definite Chief Aim of becoming an actuary because I thought becoming an actuary would create a lot of job opportunities. I figured out what it takes to be an actuary, and I started studying for the first exam. For me it started with having a vision of what I was lacking my life that I needed to develop: job opportunities. In 2002, I graduated college with no opportunities, and after much reflection, I developed a very strong desire to never be limited by opportunities again. That desire is what drove me to accomplish my Definite Chief Aim. 

What’s driving you? Who do you want to be? These are the kinds of question you need to ask yourself to figure out your Definite Chief Aim.  You need to develop and cultivate a burning desire to achieve your Definite Chief Aim, so it must be something you care deeply about.

Well, not always…

It’s not always going to be the case that you’ll have a grand vision for who you want to be and what you want to achieve.  This is particularly true just after you’ve achieved a big goal. But sometimes you simply don’t have a vision on which to base a Definite Chief Aim. When that happens, look at what you’re doing now, and focus on the next logical thing.  One of the best pieces of advice I got from a Chief Actuary was that you should always be developing your skills and honing your profession. If you know that job you want, then you should tailor your development towards that. If you don’t know what job you want next, focus your development efforts on your boss’s job. Eventually you will either get good enough to replace your boss when they move on, or you will stumble on something more meaningful.

Two Keys to Obtaining a Definite Chief Aim

Two key concepts from the text that will help you keep your Definite Chief Aim front and center in your life are Auto Suggestion and Organized Coordinated Effort.

Auto Suggestion is the idea that you can cultivate and develop your burning desire to achieve your Definite Chief Aim through the way you talk to yourself. One of the reasons why you should write your goal down is so that you can read it every day, preferably multiple times a day. Read it when you wake up. Read it when you go to bed. The more you read and re-read your Definite Chief Aim, the more you will believe you can achieve it. This will give you strength to press on towards your goal on good days and bad. But that’s not to say that saying the thing out loud will make it happen. You have to figure out what to do in order to achieve your Definite Chief Aim, then do it through organized coordinated effort.

Organized Coordinated Effort is the second key concept in this chapter. Deciding on a Definite Chief Aim then believing you can achieve it are essential but not sufficient. You have to organize all the forces available to you and coordinate them towards your Definite Chief Aim. Be deliberate about how you spend your time and where you focus your effort. Doing this day in day out will lead to success. Stating this another way, you need to create a system that will ensure achievement of your Definite Chief Aim. One my favorite quotes about achieving a goal comes from the book Atomic Habits by James Clear:

We don’t rise to the level of our goals, but we fall to the level of our systems.

Harnessing the power of Auto Suggestion and Organized Coordinated Effort will help you achieve your Definite Chief Aim.

Exercise to help you apply this lesson (from the text)

Step 1: Decide what your Definite Chief Aim will be

Step 2: Write out a clear, concise statement of this aim

Step 3: Write out a statement of the plan through which you intend to attain the object of your aim

Step 4: Create a master mind to help you

Quote from the book on step 4:

Your next and final step will be the forming of an alliance with some person or persons who will cooperate with you in carrying out these plans and transforming your definite chief aim into reality.

Step 4 can be tricky. The book suggests leaning on people closest to us for support as we pursue our Definite Chief Aim. It’s been my experience that the people closest to me are in fact my biggest fans and have been instrumental in helping me achieve my Definite Chief Aims. But, some of my biggest fans are also skeptics. Sometimes if our dream is a lot bigger than who we are or who we have been then those closest to us might have a hard time visualizing us becoming something new. In that case some people could become that terrible monster described in Steven Pressfield’s book: Do The Work: Resistance. Resistance is a catchall phrase for all the negative forces that attempt to hinder us on our path towards achievement. Choose your Master Mind well, and don’t listen to the naysayers. You can do it if you believe you can!

The Master Mind: Introductory Chapter to The Law of Success in 16 Lessons

The Master Mind –Don’t do it alone

Hill defines a Master Mind as: 

…a mind that is developed through the harmonious co-operation [sic] of two or more people who ally themselves for the purpose of accomplishing any given task

Before we go on, I think it’s important to call out something Hill neglects in the book. In his definition of Master Mind, he’s talking about the concept of a Team. A Team is 

A group of two or more people that have come together for a specific purpose.

Hill’s unstated assumption is that a team of people working together to achieve a goal is more likely to succeed than any individual working alone. I think the truth of that statement is self-evident. The team itself is not the Master Mind. The Master Mind is the collective intelligence that emerges as members interact with each other. This intelligence can be steered and directed towards helping each member of the team achieve his or her goals.  Sometimes the team could all be working on the same goal, as is the case with a sports team. Other times the team could be a group of sales people who are all trying to sell the same thing or for the same company. In both cases, the team members benefit from giving each other feedback, dividing up work load, keeping each other accountable and encouraging each other on. What’s more, the interaction between like-minded individuals in the spirit of cooperation can produce thoughts and interpretations that are more than any one person would have come up with on their own.

The two key points of the lesson on the Master Mind are: 1) you will achieve more if you ally yourself with other people, and 2) this alliance must be in the spirit of harmonious cooperation.  Getting a group of people together is futile if there’s no harmony or cooperation.

As actuaries many of us have experienced a Master Mind.  My first experiences with a Master Mind came in the form of study groups. We would meet up some days before work or on the weekends to sit near each other and study for our next actuarial exam. Sometimes I studied alongside people who were sitting for the same exam, sometimes not. I found studying alongside other was comforting, empowering and encouraging. 

I’ve also worked on teams where the outcomes we achieved far surpassed anything we would have been able to achieve on our own. Something special happens when you get a few smart people in a room and openly discuss the best way to tackle a problem. But this only happens when there’s true harmony and cooperation. A great resource on how to build a high functioning team is the book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

In my experience there are a few things that make a Master Mind group successful.

  1. The Master Mind group must have a clear purpose that every member is committed to. 
  2. The Master Mind group needs to meet on a regular basis. This might be daily, weekly or monthly, depending on the goal and rhythms of the milestones. 
  3. I think a Master Mind group works best in person, but recent events with the COVID-19 pandemic have shown us that virtual proximity can work. This is especially true if you’ve defined the purpose of the group so narrow that you can’t find members committed to it nearby.
  4. The actual form of the master mind group doesn’t have to be formal. Free-form exchange of challenges and ideas can be enough to unlock the power of the Master Mind.
  5. You get the most out of it when you join with the intention of giving, not getting.

The topic of the Master Mind is one of the author’s most famous concepts. There is a thriving community of people that participate in Master Mind groups that provide a place to learn and grow with other like-minded professionals. 

The Law of Success in Sixteen Lessons by Napoleon Hill – Overview


I first encountered the Law of Success in 2011. It was one of the first audio-books I ever listened to. At the time I was doing a lot of introspection and professional development. I’m not entirely sure how I stumbled onto it, but I’ve re-read the book several times over the last 13 years, and it’s had a lasting impact on my life and career. 

The principles laid out in the book are timeless and the author acknowledges that he did not invent these lessons. Rather, he claims to have merely uncovered, articulated and compiled the principles into a single location. The Law of Success is fairly dense. Most business or personal improvement books have 5 pages of excellent content stretched into a 150 page book.  The Law of Success is one of those rare books that’s the opposite. It doesn’t waste a ton of pages on material that doesn’t add to the content. 

The book is not organized like modern books. I found it fairly challenging to outline in a linear fashion, and abandoned my effort part-way through. My summary bounces around quite a bit as a try to string topics together in a way that’s more coherent than the author does. Also, I’ve added some notes on my own experiences and insight into the topics. 

Versions of the Book

Because the book was written so long ago, it’s in the public domain. You can download a pdf copy or browse it online. It’s also available in audiobook form or hard copy from your preferred bookseller. However you prefer to get it, I highly encourage you to read it. It’s worth your time.  

There are several hard copy versions out there. Some are very bad – ranging from unformatted text to multiple errors. The hard copy I am using is a single volume called The Law of Success Deluxe Edition. It was published in 2017 by Tarcher Perigee. When I quote the text directly, I will try to provide the page number from this version. Because my version is in a single volume, the page numbers will not match the original version that is available free online.

A Note on Language and Disposition

The Law of Success was published in 1925. American society was much different back then and this book has a few archaic assumptions and stereotypes built into it. The book spends a vast majority of time covering the content but does occasionally reveal the misogynistic and racist views of the author. These brief references can be disheartening and distracting but they do not have to detract from the great content. Also, some sections are hard to get through due to pseudo-scientific explanations. You can skip over these fairly easily, but I found it entertaining to see how someone might try to create scientific explanations for some of the concepts presented in the book.

Application of the 16 Lessons to Professional life

There’s nothing really special about the actuarial profession.  We have a rigorous credentialing process. We are self-governing. We have a code of conduct and work towards the betterment of society. We do it in the context of math, risk and “financial security systems”. But fundamentally, we’re knowledge workers in a knowledge economy. The summary and insights here are filtered through my professional lens, which is influenced by 20 years as an actuary with roles ranging from analyst to consultant to executive . Any of these concepts are likely applicable to other professions just as easily.

Definition of Success

The opening three pages of Lesson 1 covers a statement about the nature and definition of success:

Success is very largely a matter of adjusting one’s self to the ever-varying and changing environments of life, in a spirit of harmony and poise. – pg 1

Success, within the meaning of that term as covered by this course on the 15 Laws of Success is, “the attainment of your Definite Chief Aim without violating the rights of other people”. – pg 1

The Law of Success won’t help you set a Definite Chief Aim (goal) or even define it. The set of lessons is designed to explain what’s needed to achieve a goal, help you identify deficiencies or weaknesses, and then assist you in addressing those weaknesses so that you may succeed in your goal. It’s worth stating that some lessons will be more or less important for different goals. But I firmly believe all the lessons can be helpful in achieving any goal worth pursuing.

Notice the author mentions 15 laws, and 16 lessons. Chapters 2 through 16 cover what he refers to as the 15 laws. Chapter 1 covers The Master Mind, which is an important lesson, but the author does not refer to this as a Law for some unknown reason.

List of the Lessons

Below is the list of the lessons in the Law of Success along with my own title for each. Great care was taken on selecting the order of each of the lessons and each one builds on preceding lessons.

  1. The Master Mind – Don’t do it alone
  2. A Definite Chief Aim – Articulate your most important goal
  3. Self Confidence – You got this!
  4. The Habit of Saving – Live within your means
  5. Initiative & Leadership – Be proactive
  6. Imagination – Visualize and Innovate
  7. Enthusiasm – Do what you love, love what you do
  8. Self-Control – Have Discipline
  9. The habit of doing more than paid for – Every job you do deserves your best
  10. Pleasing Personality – Get along with those around you
  11. Accurate Thinking – Data-based decision making
  12. Concentration – Focus
  13. Co-Operation – Teamwork makes the dream work
  14. Profiting by Failure – Learn from mistakes
  15. Tolerance – Diversity is key
  16. Practicing the Golden Rule – The power of grace and forgiveness

The sections below walk through each of the lessons contained in the Law of Success. I summarize theme of each lesson and provide some commentary on the application of these lessons to working professionals.

My Grandfather’s Last Gift To Me

From the time I was in college, I was very close to my grandfather. I went to school 5 hours away, yet I would see him on my frequent trips home. He and my grandmother had a large library that filled 12 full-sized bookshelves and took up an entire room in their house. There was a seemingly endless supply of books to read, and my grandfather would constantly be going through one or more of the books. He had a comprehensive catalog system with 4×6 note cards that he typed out on his trusty 1930’s era typewriter. He had this habit of clipping newspaper articles that related to one of his books and placing them into the book. He didn’t like writing in books, so when he wanted to mark a page, he would write a note on a notecard or flag the page with little cut strips of paper. Some books had dozens of these flags, marking passages that interested him. 

I was fortunate to get to know my grandfather when I was a young adult. I spent hours with him discussing books, politics, physics and my career in mathematics & insurance. Grandpa was an engineer and he liked that I was also in a technical field.  When he passed away in 2019, he left me his prized library. We had discussed it years before he died and he was delighted that I wanted to keep the collection alive and growing.

When I started going through the collection, and pulled out all the special books. I found books we read together and discussed at length. I found others that were over 100 year old and had been passed down from his own parents and grandparents. There’s a book my great-uncle won for being good citizen in elementary school. There’s a family bible from the late 1800’s that has a fancy marriage certificate from my Wynn ancestors in 1865.

I also started seeing all the books that Grandpa had flagged. I spent extra time going through the books with the most markings, and was amazed to see my Grandpa glaring back at me through the pages! Almost every time he flagged a page with an unmarked bookmark, I was able to skim through and find the passage or idea he was flagging.  It’s not always obvious, but the hunt became really fun.

One book, called Space Odyssey: An Anthology of Great Science Fiction Stories, he had a newspaper clipping about Kurt Vonnegut and a notecard marking Vonnegut’s story, Harrison Bergeron. The notecard was a rare one because it was prominently displayed so he could see it without opening the book. The story is about a dystopian future where the world is entirely obsessed with Equity or the Equality of Outcomes. In this world exceptional people are handicapped by the government so they do not stand out from the crowd. Beautiful people are made to wear masks. skinny dancers are weighed down with lead weights so that fat people can keep up with them, etc. This was my grandfather’s nightmare! He was terrified that progressive policy makers were deliberately handicapping entrepreneurs and over-achievers in order to make the world more “equal”. His central mythos was of a self-made man who could rise up from poverty by his own keen intellect and hard work. His own father (my great-grandfather) had done just that.  

I didn’t necessarily learn anything new about Grandpa reading through this, but I could see him in my mind, reading this book, and getting excited that someone had put into words this feeling he had in his own heart!

Another fun example I found was a book where Grandpa left a entire one-page hand written note about this book Human Destiny, by Lecomte du Nouy. His note tells this hilarious story about how he was required to participate in a seminar during his final year of engineering school. The seminar was taught by the dean of students who was an avid reader. The seminar required the students to  read a book and provide an analysis of the book. The list of books were from the dean’s private collection of books that influenced him personally.  My grandfather specifically chose Human Destiny because the dean mentioned how much he admired it. Upon reading it my grandfather drafted a scathing review of the book, pointing out that the author does nothing to back up any of his outlandish arguments about the future of humanity. Taking a giant dump on the dean of students because he vehemently disagreed with not only the premise of the book but the scholarship of it is classic Grandpa!  Grandpa held his opinions very firmly and was not afraid to engage in debate.  Fast forward 56 years, Grandpa found a copy of this book in a used bookstore, recognized it and decided to give it another read to see if his mind changed at all.  In reading the book for a second time he concluded “I would not have changed a word in my original report on the book”.

I miss my grandfather almost everyday.  My own work-from-home office is filled with books from his/our library.  I was named after him in a sense. Grandfather was the fourth male in a row named Edward. He kept the name alive by making it my father’s middle name, then my dad did the same for me, and I did the same for my son. I feel so blessed that I get to discover a little bit of grandpa as I go through his old notes, and I’ve started collecting my own notes on the books I love for my kids and maybe grandkids some day. 

Are Great Leaders Born or Made?

Are great leaders born or made?

I’ve been exploring that question my entire adult life. Growing up, I was always told I was a natural leader; and so I was put in leadership positions. But what made me a “natural” leader? How much of it was how I was born vs. how I was raised? Questions like this (related to nature vs. nurture arguments) inevitably lead to a discussion on why it’s “both” and not “either-or”. But it’s worth discussing both sides.

My early life set me up to be a leader

Growing up, my parents were always involved with some community service. They volunteered with the Jaycees and helped organize the local Miss America pageant franchise.  When we started attending church around ninth grade, my parents got immediately involved and started volunteering as greeters. I don’t remember my parents ever teaching me explicitly about leadership or community involvement, but I clearly learned about leadership through proximity to them. I had several leadership opportunities in elementary school, including being captain of the safety patrol and MCing the talent show in 6th grade.

In high school and college, I participated in religious experiences called Chrysalis. ( This is a weekend retreat (although they don’t like the term retreat), where participants experience the love of God at a deep level. I went through the experience first as a participant, then as a volunteer. Through volunteering with several of these events, I learned many lessons in leadership and public speaking. There was no formal training associated with these events, yet I started to develop and hone my own leadership & public speaking skills.  

Reflecting back on that time, two things really stand out related to the question of nature vs. nurture:

  1. I took the initiative to volunteer for these leadership opportunities of my own accord. So clearly, there was something inside me that was primed to seek out leadership positions.
  2. The more repetitions (reps) I got at volunteering, leading, and speaking the better I got.

Having the opportunity to take on leadership and do public speaking was important, but I had to actually raise my hand and do the work. That took a certain amount of self-confidence and courage. It was also very helpful to have parents and other leaders who encouraged me.  My childhood spent watching my parents volunteer and lead primed me for doing the same as I got older. But the encouragement from them and others was crucial to building my own confidence (or in some cases, destroying it). And of course, the more opportunities I took, the better I got, which built my confidence and courage and prompted me to do yet more.

How does my experience inform how I help develop leaders?

As a leader of my family, my work and F3, I have the responsibility to help develop new leaders. To do so there are a few key things I know I need to do.

  • Create opportunities for people to get reps as leaders
  • Encourage people to stretch themselves and grow
  • Turn leadership experiences into learning experiences by encouraging a culture of review and reflection
  1. Creating Opportunities

As my kids get older, my wife and I have been giving them more and more responsibility around the house. They’ve gotten pretty good at knocking out chores, particularly once we tied those to a weekly allowance. I have discovered, however, that my kids are far less interested in me explaining a principle of leadership, than actually doing a chore and gettin paid. So the deliberate and specific instruction of leadership has been challenging. I expect this will get easier as they get older.

Creating leadership opportunities at work is a little harder for me. While I’m technically an executive, I don’t have any direct reports at this time. All the people I lead technically report to someone else. I have to exert my influence indirectly and more softly than I otherwise would. I’ve found I can create opportunities to lead by not just asking for a task to get done, but asking for help in problem solving. The biggest thing that’s helped me is to really push junior staff to broaden their thinking about a subject. If their job is to update numbers on a spreadsheet, ask them to take it a step further – do the numbers look reasonable? If I wasn’t here, how would you check for that? You can tell a lot about a person by asking those kinds of next-step questions. Leadership opportunities are more than putting someone in charge or something. A great place to start is giving them a small chance to think bigger than they normally do.

  1. Encouragement

Words from others can have a profound impact on you. Growing up I never felt like an athlete, and I was never told I was an athlete. Looking back, I clearly was athletic. I played multiple sports before and into junior high, then lettered in tennis in high school. Yet I never saw myself as an athlete until I got into F3 and really started to think about my health and challenge my self-talk. I wish someone in my youth helped me understand that I was an athlete. I think that would have helped me develop healthy habits earlier.

We talk to our kids a lot about self-talk, and about how they can construct their own identity through the way they think and talk to themselves.  Our own internal narrative is the most important factor in our self-confidence.

  1. Creating a culture of review & reflection

In F3, at the end of every workout, we take a few minutes to provide the leader (called the Q in F3 language) with direct, timely feedback regarding how the workout went. The Q is expected to prompt the discussion and kick it off by acknowledging things he could have done better. That creates an environment where guys feel safe to express criticism as well as praise for the Q. This kind of thing should be done everywhere.

The key lies in separating the performance or outcome from the person. A person isn’t a bad leader, but sometimes their performance is bad, or the outcome is bad. Creating a culture of review and reflection provides a framework for a leader to think critically about their performance, learn from mistakes, and grow as a leader.


All of us are born with the capacity to lead. Some of us are blessed with frequent, early opportunities to lead, and hence develop early as leaders.  Leadership is a skill that can be learned by everyone.

Effective Organizations

This post is part of a series covering topics from QSource: the F3 Manual of Virtuous Leadership. You can find the entirety of this text here:, or pick up a hard copy at your favorite book retailer.


What type of organization do you want to work for? What inspires you to join a company or a club or a church or whatever? This post covers a way to view how an organization pursues its goals.

In F3, we define three types of Organizations: Lizards, Bullfrogs and Leeches. You can find a more formal discussion of these at

A Lizard is a dynamic organization that is constantly accelerating towards its goal. The only reason a Lizard exists is to realize its purpose. The image of the lizard is of a dynamic animal that is fast, agile and constantly in motion. Lizards have members dedicated to realizing the organization’s purpose.

A Bullfrog is an organization that is entirely concerned with existential continuity. Where lizards are concerned with moving forward (accelerating), bullfrogs are concerned with staying in place. Bullfrogs are loud, sedentary creatures more apt to wait for food to wander near them, rather than to actively hunt. Bullfrog organizations usually have a stated purpose that looks a lot like Lizards, but members of a Bullfrog are incentivized to follow rules, rather than accelerating the organiztion purpose.

A Leech is an organization that has become so sedentary and toxic that it actually feeds off of Bullfrogs. Members of a Leech are entirely worried about individual continuity (covering their own ass), rather than the existential continuity of the organization or the realization of the organization’s purpose. 

So what? Who cares what animal your organization is like?

What type of organization would you prefer to join? A Bullfrog may sound appealing, because the pressure is on maintaining something that’s already been built, rather than building something new. Ultimately, however, the fate of the Bullfrog has one of two ends: either the bullfrog will be overrun by lizards and become obsolete. Or entropy and atrophy will eventually reduce a bullfrog to the point where it entirely fades into irrelevance. Either way, bullfrogs won’t survive forever.

Lizards, on the other hand, are dynamic and constantly staying ahead of changes in their environments. Lizards provide group members with a way to realize a purpose, rather than mere membership.

Is it really as simple as one or the other?

Lizard-ness and bullfrog-ness are each more like a continuum, rather than an all-or-nothing proposition. Some lizards are more lizard-like than others, etc. Also, it’s quite possible to shift in and out of lizard states over time.  I believe there are two key dimensions to the Lizard-Bullfrog-Leech continuum:

  1. Seasonality – organizations drift between various states of being more lizard-like or more bullfrog-like over time.
  2. Sub-organization dynamism – organizations have sub-organizations in varying states on the lizard-bullfrog-leech continuum. Lizards teams do exist inside bullfrogs, although they probably don’t live too long.


Whether you’re talking about a church, company or book club, all organizations start out as a Lizard. There is always some purpose identified by a leader (or leaders) that the organization was founded to realize.  Initially, leaders and group members have enthusiasm for the purpose, and help dynamically move the group towards realizing its purpose.

If an organization survives long enough, there will be a natural tendency to evolve into a bullfrog. Leadership transitions, the accomplishing of initial goals, or simply getting bored can all be causes of lizards becoming bullfrogs.  Anyway you slice it, the tendency towards bullfrogs is strong and immutable. It’s the law of entropy expressed in organization logic. To remain a lizard, organizations have to be extremely deliberate. 

It’s quite possible, for a bullfrog to become a lizard. Moments of Lizard-ness help get an organization out of a rut, and propel the organization to overcome some obstacles. The re-giniting of lizard-ness is always triggered by a leader incentivized to make a change. That incentive could be a carrot – there’s an opportunity for the leader and/or the organization to gain something important – or a stick – the leader will be punished if they don’t make a change.

At the company I currently work at, we have a very strong operating system that helps us maintain our lizard-ness. That’s not to say that all teams are strong lizards, all the time. Far from it. But the baseline operating system provides a clear framework for maintaining our status as a lizard. The framework is adapted from the Verne Harnish’s Rockefeller Habits (

I’ve worked for 6 different companies and have been a part of dozens of clubs, churches and civic organizations. The Rockefeller Habits are, by far, the most effective operating system for an organization to achieve success.

Inter-Organization Dynamism

The other dimension of the continuum is the fact that sub-organizations and teams within the organization may be at varying states of lizard-ness or bullfrog-ness.  For example, sales teams tend to be the most lizard-like parts of an organization. That is because sales departments are the easiest to measure and manage objectively.  

Another reason you see a team stand out as a lizard compared to other teams is that the leader of the team simply decides to operate as a lizard. Some people have a natural inclination to accelerate towards goals, and they can have a profound impact on their team.  This can be a tough situation for the leader if the bullfrog-ness of the rest of the organization attempts to push the lizard team into being more bullfrog-like. 

Why does all this matter?

Whatever organization you’re a part of, you need to understand where the organization is on this spectrum, and decide if that aligns with what you want. If you want to be part of a lizard, you need to seek it out, or help be part of the mechanism that transforms the organization from a bullfrog into a lizard.  But how do you become a lizard? You have to act like a Lizard in order to become a lizard! The final lesson in the F3 Qsource Manual is on this very topic:

The three key takeaways from this chapter are:

  1. Effective Organizations are built through relationships, not rules
  2. An Effective Organization is a mass of Dynamic Teams led by Sua Sponte Leaders
  3. The Virtuous Leader stays 43 feet ahead of his Organization’s Movement

I’ll cover this topic in a future blog post.

Eisenhower Matrix

I first learned about the Eisenhower Matrix when I read the book The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People by Stephen Covey when I was starting my first real job as an actuary back in 2004. I highly recommend this book, by the way. Despite having learned it and studied it, I haven’t always made as much use of it as I should. I decided to make this one of my first posts because I want to refresh my mind on the topic. 

The Important/Urgent Matrix is a model that helps you prioritize work. It’s visualized as a 2 x 2 matrix with important/not important labeling the vertical axis and urgent/not urgent labeling the horizontal. The result is four quadrants that represent four categories any work can be classified in.

There is a ton of stuff out on the web about the various ways to use and interpret the matrix. I’m going to present it in the way that makes the most sense for me.  It’s worth taking the time to search the web for other interpretations that might offer further insight. 

Define Important 

In the Eisenhower Matrix, an “important” task means any work that requires you to do it to fulfill your mission. Every task you get at work will probably be important to someone somewhere, but is it important to you? The matrix helps you focus on what is important to your mission. This is a nuance I didn’t fully appreciate in the past, which caused me to mis-classify tasks as important and ultimately led to an overwhelming to do list. It’s also a trap I can get into because I’m a people pleaser at heart, and so I can get confused about what’s important to me vs. others. 

Key Idea: What makes a task important it determined by your mission. 

Define Urgent 

An urgent task is anything that must be completed in a specific and imminent timeframe. We usually think of urgent tasks being those that must be done today or in the next few hours.  A classic example of an urgent task is answering the phone when it’s ringing.  Not all phone calls are important, but when your phone rings, you only have a few seconds to answer it. That’s a key essence of urgency: something imploring you to act now.  

Key Idea: You do not have discretion regarding when an urgent task must be completed. 

The Matrix 

Below is the version of the Eisenhower Matrix I cobbled this together based on my own experience and after having reviewed a few on the internet. See the appendix to this post below for some versions that inspired me. 

You do not have discretion regarding when it needs to be done 
Not Urgent 
You have discretion regarding when it needs to be done 
It does impact your mission 
I. The Fire 
Key: Do this first 
Examples: Work product deliverable due today, Taxes due today, Last minute request from a customer 
II. The Dragon 
Key: Schedule this 
Examples: Exercise, a task due next week, an important task with no due date 
Not Important 
It does not impact your mission 
III. Interruptions 
Key: Delegate or Ignore this 
Examples: Notification from news or social media 
IV. Distractions 
Key: Avoid or schedule as leisure activity 
Examples: Play video game, some emails or conference calls  

The Quadrants 

Quadrant I: Urgent and Important – The Fire 

I like to think of quadrant I stuff as the fire that you need to put out now.  This work needs to get done first. It can be an ad-hoc or random request that interrupts your day. Or it can be a project that is due soon that you have been working on for several weeks. This isn’t always work you want to do, but it’s work you must do now to fulfill your mission. 

Regardless of who started the fire, you need to do Quadrant I work first.  

Quadrant II: Not Urgent and Important – The Dragon 

Work in this quadrant is usually the highest value and most productive work you can do. It also can be the most neglected and hardest to make time for. For me, the whole point of the Eisenhower Matrix is to identify this kind of work and make sure you get it done. There are scores of books written on the topic of how to identify and focus on this type of work.  “Compound Time” is a term recently discovered that boils down to Quadrant II work. 

“The Dragon” is a phrase I’ve picked up from the book Becoming the 1%: How to Master Time Management And Rise To The Top in 7 Days by Dennis Crosby. As Crosby explains, the Dragon is the most important thing you can work on. The dragon is a formidable enemy standing between what you are today and what you want to be tomorrow. You have to slay the dragon to attain the vision for your life. The Dragon always exists in Quadrant II.   

Schedule dragon work into your day, preferably when you’re at your best. This work moves your long-term goals forward and will accelerate you on your path towards accomplishing your mission. 

Quadrant III: Urgent and Not Important – Interruptions 

Quadrant III work is stuff that’s trying to get your attention but does not help your mission. You can ignore some of these items, like telemarketer calls or popup ads.  Stuff you can’t ignore should be delegated to someone else, to whom the work is important.  

Don’t let Quadrant III work interrupt your progress toward slaying that dragon! 

Quadrant IV: Not Urgent and Not Important – Distractions 

Quadrant IV work is the least valuable tasks you can do. Tasks in this context means any way you plan on spending your time. Quadrant IV work can include playing video games, reading the news, and even some meetings you might be required to attend but don’t actually add any value in.  It is important to contextualize this work depending on what you’re weighing other work against. For example, I wake up early on the weekends and knock out the Quadrant II stuff (my morning ritual and readying or writing). Once my Dragon has been slain for the day, it’s a perfect time for me to whip out my phone and play a game. I slay the dragon first, then reward myself with a little Minecraft. But there’s never a time during the week when I’m at work appropriate for me to play a game, even though I might really prefer doing that than knocking on the TPS report a client just asked for.  

Minimizing and eliminating these during your productive time is key to moving your goals forward.  

Tips for using the Eisenhower Matrix 

Tip #1: Know your mission 

To classify something as Important, you need to know your mission. Your mission at work is the course of action you need to take to achieve the articulated purpose of your team. It’s mostly going to come from your job description, although as you grow in your role, you’ll want to broaden your view of what’s your “job” to help your team as much as possible.  

Tip #2: Context is key  

As stated above, important work is work that directly adds to your mission. Your mission further depends on your current context. What’s important in one context (work) is not important for another (home). That also means that you have more than one mission. Keeping separate project and to-do lists for home and work can help keep important tasks in the appropriate context.   

Context is also a key part of identifying how urgent work is, because some tasks require you to be in a specific location or around specific people for them to happen. For example, I keep a to do list that’s specifically for errands. I check it when I know I will be out and about. If there’s an errand I can do while I’m out, I’ll make it urgent, and do it. 

Tip #3: Intentionally Plan your day (every day!) 

The Eisenhower Matrix is most useful when you use it every time you review the list of work you have. I highly recommend doing this daily, but it’s crucial you do it at least on a weekly basis. I don’t think it’s possible to stay on top of your day job and project work without at least a weekly review of your to do list. It might seem a little formal or tedious to reference the matrix every time you review your work, but it becomes routine and really does help identify the most important work. 

For tips on how to get and stay organized around your to do’s, check out my favorite book on the topic: Getting Things Done by David Allen. Getting Things Done (GTD) provides a system for capturing, processing, and organizing everything you need to be doing.  

Whatever system you use, the guiding principal here is that you need to intentionally plan what you’re going to work on every day. Don’t just float through your day being pushed around by your calendar or work that pops up.  Yes, you will have some days that are completely full of meetings, and those days you shouldn’t plan on getting much (any) pre-determined work done.  

You might work in day job that requires you to constantly respond to ad hoc requests. Not having control over the volume and nature of the work that comes out you does not preclude you from needing to intentionally prioritize and plan its execution. 

You will cycle through seasons where the degree to which you are able to spend time planning is higher or lower. My current job has a strong seasonal component, and when busy season hits, I tend to get sucked into the trap of reacting to my calendar and ad hoc requests, rather than intentionally planning my days. I have found a way to break free of this trap. It involves a set of daily rituals that ensure everything that I should be thinking about is captured, processed and organized. 

For this post, I’ll mention the most powerful daily rituals I have. 

Begin Work Ritual

  1. Begin Work ritual – this is the first thing I do every day when I log in for work. 
  1. Get inbox to zero
  2. Review notes from yesterday (or last day I worked) 
  3. Review calendar for the day, week and next week
  4. Organize my tasks for what intentional work needs to be done by the end of the day

End Work Ritual

  1. Get inbox to zero 
  2. Review calendar for tomorrow 
  3. Cross off what got done, and leave open what didn’t get done from my morning list

I like to bookend my day with getting the inbox to zero. I know this issue is a controversial one with some people who suggest not checking email first thing. But I hate having lingering messages in my inbox. Inevitably, I get emails after I log out every day and overnight, so I still have to start every morning by getting the inbox to zero.

Tip #4: Prioritize Quadrant I and II work 

Once you’ve identified your quadrant I and II work, and you know how much time you have to work on everything, you need to prioritize it all. Generally the most urgent work should be done first. But it’s not always clear what’s the most urgent work. This is usually because of one of two issues: 1) you have work with conflicting priorities (due at the same time) or 2) you have discretion on what to work on now.  

To deal with conflicting priorities, you need to get help in figuring out what to work on. Ask a supervisor or coworker to help you figure out what to work on first. But do it quickly. Don’t sit around worrying about which is more important or try to do both at the same time. You need to seek clarity around what you should be working on quickly. 

When it comes to times when you have discretion on what you can work on, you might have to get strategic. I like to use a want-to-do/need-to-do framework. Usually when I have the choice of work to do, I can classify tasks into work that I want to do and work I need to do.  If given the choice between filing an expense report and analyzing new ways of applying risk adjustment methods to renewal underwriting, I’ll choose the risk adjustment work. It’s way more fun than filling out an expense report form my last trip. Both are important in one way or another. The expense report has deadline, so it’s technically more urgent than the other task, but if the deadline is 60 days out, then it doesn’t really feel urgent.  

So what is an actuary to do? The slacktuary in me does the fun work, and puts the expense report off until it becomes a fire I need to put out. I have sign in my office that reads: “Do what you need to do BEFORE you do what you want to do”. I try to follow that sign’s advice and knocks out the expense report BEFORE working on the fun project. This is sometimes call task bundling or temptation bundling.  It only works if you have the discipline to make it work. 

Tip #5: Avoid Firefighting 

Firefighting is the trap we can get in when we’re constantly only working on hyper-urgent tasks. It’s a way of going through your day reacting to things rather than proactively and intentionally planning your work.  Firefighting usually involves inflating the relative urgency of less-important tasks so that a little campfire looks like a raging inferno. The increased urgency you feel then gets translated into hours of working on things that pop up without really thinking hard about whether or not it’s really urgent. 

Firefighting is generally not a great strategy for being effective. BUT! Not all fires are bad. I tend to prefer fires to dragons and one of the tricks I use is to make dragon work appear to be on fire. The constructive way to do this is to set a deadline and have someone safe hold you accountable for it – like a manager or colleague. The more destructive way to do is to commit a deadline to a customer or less friendly colleague. When you do that, the pressure is on to perform! But you can use the artificial urgency to spur yourself into action and get the work done. This is like setting a controlled fire in order to prevent the entire forest from burning down. 


The Eisenhower Matrix is a great tool for organizing your work. Use it every day and you will find yourself getting more impactful work done ! 

Image Source: Davidjcmorris – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, 


  • Purpose – An Advantage sought 
  • Articulated Purpose – The primary Advantage sought by a Team or Organization. 
  • Advantage – A superior circumstance achieved by Movement. 
  • Movement – Actions taken in furtherance of Purpose. 
  • Mission – Mission is a course of action taken to achieve a ultimate or articulated purpose. 
    Source: QSource: The F3 Manual of Virtuous Leadership by Dredd 
  • Next Action – The single next thing that needs to be done to complete a project. 
  • Project – Anything we want to do that requires two or more actions. 
    Source: Getting Things Done by David Allen 
  • Task – A single piece of work that is comprised of at least one action. Tasks with multiple steps are projects 

Appendix: Eisenhower Matrices from across the Internet


The Powerful Habit of Memorizing Passages


  • Deliberately memorizing passages daily has several benefits including, making your memory stronger more generally, giving you focus every day and providing a foundation that will last a lifetime.
  • There’s an easy method created by Tom Frost back in the 1980’s (

In the spring of my Freshman year in college (March 1998) I had a leveling up of my faith. I graduated from my childhood-like faith into a more mature understanding of what God did in Jesus, and why it matters. The group of guys I ended up hanging out with had a profound impact on me. We eventually had a falling out, but they introduced me to the discipline of memorizing scripture.

At the time, I was as zealous as a convert, even though I had been a Christian for 4 years by this point. My faith was not mature and did not stand up to even mild criticism, let alone rigorous debate. I realized that, while I had read the bible in the past, I really didn’t internalize much of it. So memorizing scripture intrigued me.

The method we used was to set aside time every day to go through the memorization exercise.

  • Each week you pick one new scripture to work on and write it down in a journal that had seven blocks of seven check boxes listed along side it.
  • Every day, when it comes time to do the exercise, you simply say the scriture out loud one time, then check one box.
  • You do this once a day for seven weeks (hence the seven blocks of seven checkboxes).
  • When the seven weeks are up, you assign the scripture to a day of the week. Then every week on that day, you say the scripture once a week for seven months.
  • When the seven months are up, you move the scripture to a day between 1 and 28, then you say the scripture on that day once a month for seven years.

By the time you get done, you will have memorized the scripture. Actually, in my experience, by the time I got through the seven weeks, I had pretty much memorized the scripture.

The first scripture I memorized was Romans 12:1-2Therefore I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. This is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is, his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Over the course of several months, I kept this discipline up, memorizing dozens of pieces of scripture. But as happens with many things started with good intentions, I eventually slowed down and stopped the practice altogether. Over the years, I’ve started the practice back up, only to stop just a few weeks in. It has not been a consistent part of my faith practice in over 20 years.

Over the course of those 20 barren years, as my faith has ebbed and flowed, sometimes closer to and sometimes further away from God, the scriptures stuck with me. After some research and reflections on my experience I learned a few interesting things about memory, and how the practice of memorizing pieces of wisdom have blessed my life.

The first blessing I’ve learned is that the act of reading scripture daily provides structure to my faith time. I don’t have to decide what to pray or what to read to what to do. I just kock out the scriptures, and check the box.

The next thing I learned is that you have to be wholly present and mindful for the practice to be effective. There are plenty of things that can draw my attention away from scripture, so setting aside time when I can focus on the Word was crucial to sucessfully memorizing scripture.

The third blessing I’ve learned is that memory is a muscle: the more you work it, the stronger it gets. I truely believe the act of deliberately commiting scripture to memory in my late teens and early 20’s built a strong muscle that has stayed strong for my entire adult life. I am a credentialed actuary, and to become credentialed, I had to pass a series of exams over a 4 year period. My ability to memorize facts was invaluable to me in this pursuit. I do not believe I would have made it to the finish line without my abnormal abililty to memorize things.

But all that effort came at a cost. By achieving great success in passing all those exams, I started believing I did it all by myself. At the time it didn’t occur to me that my scripture memorization had anything to do with my ability to pass exams. I was just awesome, and so I passed exams. That caused me to drift from God, as more of my faith was in myself and my own abilities.

That lead to the fourth blessing, and the first unexpected outcome of memorizing scripture as a younger man: while my faith waned, my memory of the scriptures did not! Even when I found myself drifting away from God, He would speak to me in scripture. I’d be sitting on a bus, commuting to work and the words of Psalm 23 would come out of nowhere and flood my mind. I would hear someone mention that they were anxious, and 1 Peter 5:6&7 would pop into my mind. On the golf course, without thinking why, I would use longer passages like Romans 6:1-6 or Ephesians 4:1-6 to center my mind when I was putting. When I was feeling hurt, I would recite Galatians 2:20, reassuring myself that I was already dead to this world.

There was an 8 year faith-desert between when I stopped the practice altogether and when I finally turned back to God. It was the birth of my first child that prompted me to explore who I was, and who I wanted to be. I don’t know where I would be without the foundation I had laid for myself by memorizing scripture. The last blessing I have discovered is that memorizing scripture preserved my faith and eventually led me home.

I’m grateful for past-Brett for his discipline, and I now feel like I owe it to future-Brett to add to the foundation of faith established 20 some odd years ago. I’ve kicked off a new round of memorization. This time I will be expanding beyond scripture to include wisdom I’ve gained through other sources like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Richard Rohr, F3 and many others. I encourage anyone to do the same.